As you know from the last post, we have explored some places along the Alaskan coastline. Now it was time to get out into the wilderness. But let’s start from the beginning. So we picked up our RV in Anchorage at Great Alaskan Holidays. Our vehicle was a 2016, 33 feet (10 meter) long Winnebago Minnie Winnie and it looked like this:
The size of that monster demands a bit of time to get accustomed to but after a few kilometers things start go get easier. Operating all the features the RV has to offer, such as the waste water system, the slide out to enlarge the interior etc, is mostly straightforward and with a little help of the user manual we were able to handle it. Our first stop was at Walmart where we shopped for groceries for the next days. After that, we headed to Talkeetna where we met Jake, our friend from blog post #9 for dinner.
He suggested the Denali Brewpub, a place with local beer and good pub food. After a fun evening we parked our RV at a rest area on the side of the road and enjoyed the first night in our new home. Except within the bigger cities, Alaska is very laidback when it comes to overnight camping. You can basically stop wherever you want and as long as you don’t need an electricity and/or freshwater hookup there is no need to spend the money for a campground or RV park.
The next morning Barbara and I woke up to an unpleasant surprise. Somehow water came into the front cabin above the driverseat and drenched our mattress. Apparently, Great Alaskan Holidays, the company renting our RV, didn’t do a very good job at inspecting the vehicle beforehand. They asked us to go and try to dry the mattress and bring the RV to a garage in Fairbanks. As we could only get an appointment at the garage the next day we made our way to Chena Hotsprings, a natural hot spring around 90 km to the northeast of Fairbanks. On the way there we made a short detour to stop at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Viewpoint, where people get to see Alaska’s oil pipeline up close as it runs above ground here. It’s visible in other places as well, but I guess that’s one of the few points where you can get close to it so easily.
The Chena Hot Springs Resort is a nice little place with several hiking trails around, a small airstrip and of course the hot springs. So after a rather short hike and some posing in front of an apparently retired airplane we relaxed in the cozy hot outdoor pool.
The day after we got our RV fixed and continued our road trip. During the day the weather got better but we were still not sure if we could proceed with our plan to drive the 220 km long Denali Highway from Paxson (not a town, just a point on the map) to Cantwell as most of it is gravel road and it has been raining heavily in the last few days. With less than half a tank of gas and some uncertainty regarding the road conditions we decided to do it anyway. It was the right decision. Somewhere on the road we found the tiniest gas station I have ever seen and soon after a beautiful campground at the Tangle Lakes. Here we stayed for the night, celebrated Marco’s birthday and we went fishing with great success (well…).
After breakfast we took on the main part of Denali Highway and we soon realized why it was recommended to have enough time for it. Firstly, the road conditions are not always optimal and secondly, it’s just a gorgeous scenery that demands frequent stops.
We got shaken pretty thouroughly and it took us a long time to get to Cantwell but it was absolutely worth it.
As you might have noticed, our plan to circumvent the bad weather had worked out almost perfectly and now that the sun was back it was time for Denali National Park, the highlight of our Alaska trip. We reserved two nights in Riley Creek Campground which is located right at the entrance of the park and one night in Savage River Campground around 20 km inward. A few facts about the Park and Denali before we look at the pictures: Denali National Park covers a little under 25’000 square kilometers (as a comparison, Switzerland has 16’000 square km) and there is only one road which leads from the park entrance 150 km into the park. This road is only accessible to the shuttle buses provided by the park and park service vehicles. If you ever go there book one of the shuttle buses and not the narrated tours. The shuttle buses take you to the same places and you also stop on several occasions for good views and wildlife but it only costs a fracture of the tour tickets which are mainly intended for cruise ship passengers who have one day to see Denali National Park.
It was an incredible experience. On the first day we went hiking on one of the few marked trails. Due to its size, most of the park is real, untouched wilderness and people are encouraged to “just go out and discover” (obviously always respecting nature and the wildlife).
On the second day we took a shuttle bus to Wonder Lake deep inside the park. There and back would take us around eleven hours, a full day program. As you could see on the pictures above, the day before it was still cloudy and therefore there was no chance to see Denali (former Mt. McKinley, North Americas highest mountain). But we are some really lucky bastards and the weather couldn’t have been much better. Also, wildlife was abundant and active, so we got to see mountain goats, willow ptarmigans (Alaska’s state bird), several grizzly bears, a wolf, moose and caribous.
And then there was Denali itself. Words and pictures can only partly describe the impression that the sight of this majestic mountain leaves behind. And for once, the peak which is usually tightly wrapped in clouds wasn’t shy at all and showed off all his beauty.
After so much luck we made our way back to Anchorage with a good feeling. We spent a night on a campground outside town and the next day went on to check out the city which we had not seen so far. It’s the biggest city of the state but really hasn’t that much to offer besides a few shops and restaurants. Be sure to check out 49th State Brewing Company in Downtown if you get hungry or thirsty for some local beer.
So, that was it. Our RV adventure came to an end and honestly, we were not sad to give it back. It was a nice experience and we definitely had fun on the road but it wasn’t hassle-free. We were looking forward to our six hour flight from Anchorage to Honolulu, Hawaii. Aloha!